Associations between Timing of Palliative Care Consults and Family Evaluation of Care for Veterans Who Die in a Hospice/Palliative Care Unit

J Palliat Med. 2017 Jul;20(7):745-751. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2016.0477. Epub 2017 May 4.


Background: Palliative care consultations (PCC) improve end-of-life (EOL) care, although they may occur too late in an illness to effect the best outcomes. Evidence about the optimal timing of PCC is limited.

Objective: To examine the associations between PCC timing and bereaved families' evaluation of care.

Methods: A retrospective, cross-sectional analysis of data collected between October 2011 and September 2014 was conducted with 5,592 patients who died in a Veterans Affairs inpatient hospice/palliative care unit. The independent measure was the date of first documented PCC within 180 days of death. Outcomes came from the validated Bereaved Family Survey (BFS) and included one global and three subscale scores characterizing EOL care in the last month of life.

Results: After adjustment for patient and facility characteristics, family members of veterans whose first PCC occurred 91-180 days before death were more likely to rate overall care as "excellent" compared with those whose PCC occurred 0-7 days before death, 67.9% versus 62.1%, respectively (adjusted odds ratio = 1.37; confidence interval [95% CI] 1.08-1.73). Mean scores on two of the three subscales also were significantly higher for veterans receiving PCC 31-90 days before the veteran's death compared with those who had their first PCC 0-7 days before death: Respectful Care and Communication, 13.6 versus 13.4, respectively (β = 0.26; 95% CI 0.11-0.41), and Emotional and Spiritual Support, 7.6 versus 7.4, respectively (β = 0.22; 95% CI 0.03-0.41).

Conclusions: Earlier PCC is associated with greater family satisfaction with care. Strategies that are aimed at conducting PCC earlier in life-limiting illness are needed.

Keywords: communication; end-of-life care; palliative care; quality of healthcare; satisfaction; veterans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Hospice Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospitals, Veterans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Palliative Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminal Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Time Factors
  • United States
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data*